It was June 5, 2010. My son Christian had just graduated from East Paulding High School in Dallas, Georgia. The ceremony, held outdoors at the athletic field was hot, crowded and awesome. It seemed like more than a thousand graduates. Caps and gowns covered nearly the entire field.
Soon after the festivities, I told my son Alex (one year younger than the older graduate), “Just think, this will be you next year. And you will be wearing the white robe and sitting in the front where the honor students sit.” Alex said, “Well dad I don’t know about that.” I assured him that there would be no doubt.
Alex is my fourth of 5th biological children. And it seemed as each one began to grow up, I became a better father and a better teacher. I don’t know if I helped my two elder daughters at school much at all, other than to offer encouragement and help with a homework assignment or three. Not that I wasn’t interested. I went to parent teacher conferences, showed up at whatever activity they were doing, and followed up on all of their progress. They were motivated young women in regards to their primary education.
Charelle, for instance, was always a “Five-Tool” type of player. (To borrow a sports analogy) She was excellent in math, science, english, reading, art; you name it. I recall checking on her progress with her teachers in high school. One teacher in particular looked at me and said, “You’re Charelle’s father right? Don’t bother wasting your time. Nothing I can tell you about this girl. She’s got it!” In addition, she was tremendously popular too; something I never was in any level of schooling.
Chrystal, talented in her own right, I recall being especially great at art. My biggest challenge with her was fighting over what items she created that I could keep for myself after the art exhibits. I wanted them all. She was also popular and was able to hang with literally any crowd and thrive. Something I also could not do at her age.
By the time I had any clue of what I was doing to help with my kid’s education; since Charelle and Chrystal were already accomplished, my focus was on Alex and Christian during their latter school years. While I wasn’t sharpest knife in the drawer and half of the work they did was way past my expertise, I focused on what I was good at. Simplifying the process and helping them to see the big picture of life lessons and personal accountability. These are what I would offer them:
By the end of the first week of school, you should know exactly what it takes to get an A out of each class you take. If you don’t know by the end of the first week, ask.
I honestly could give a damn about whether you make an A or a D. The issue is to never ever cheat yourself. Never be lazy or content. If you got an A only because of your ability but did not maximize your efforts in the class, it doesn’t do anything for you in the long run. But if you got a D and worked your ass off, you can be proud of it. Only YOU know the difference. And that’s the person who counts. Just be excellent and let the results speak for themselves. This is what being a leader and not a follower is all about. Be a leader!
Some teachers are great, and some suck. Those that suck still have the pen that you will be graded with. That grade will follow you. So you must learn to make the best of those classes as well, if for no other reason than to get your grade and get the hell out. Teachers are like bosses and co-workers. Even with the ones that suck, you still have to learn to work with them to be successful in life.
Thus were the abiding principals I would hammer home regardless of the situation or circumstance. Every year we would have long conversations revolving around these somehow. I tried to capture their imaginations. I wanted my sons to envision themselves as adult men in life, not just boys in school. Most times I couldn’t tell what they thought of it. And I didn’t spend too much time wondering. I felt I did my job and gave them what I had. Ultimately they had to decide for themselves.
Then it happened on May 30th 2011. I’m back at East Paulding for Alex’s graduation. The ceremony had just wrapped up. There were several hundred students, parents and family members walking on the field taking pictures and celebrating. Alex seemed as pleased as I was to soak up this moment. Then he pulled me to the side and offered this to old dad.
“Hey! Remember what you told me last year? You said that I was going to wear the white robe, sit in the front and be an honors graduate.”
“Yes I do remember,” I told him.
“You also said no matter what you do, always be excellent. I can’t believe I graduated with honors. It was hard work man. But I did. I always listened to you, though I know most years I didn’t act like it.”
We both laughed.
That moment for me was one of significance because it dawned on me not only how important it is for fathers to be in their children’s lives, but how important I was to my children. That through all of the struggles, mistakes, and second guessing I’ve done as a man and a father, my presence and support in my children’s lives makes a difference. Then I wondered what would have happened if I had not been there. What if I never taught my sons to be leaders and not followers? Wow, my job has been important.
I have four adult children from ages 18-24 and they are all in college. I give them way more credit for making their own breaks and striving for their own goals than anything I’ve done for them. I give credit to their mothers who were there day in and day out. I’m very proud of them all. With each of them as well as the ones still coming up, my focus is always to train them to be adults on their own making their own contributions. I consider myself very blessed to be a part of their lives and being able to witness their transformations.